P.O. Box 442
Colbert, Georgia 30628-0442
I was born in New Jersey 6 years after the end of World War II, to parents who were the children of immigrants -- one side English, the other Polish. When I was five our family followed my father's new job to Decatur, Illinois -- an industrial city in the heart of corn country. When I was a child, I played sports and swam, ran wild in the woods and fields near home, fished and caught crawdads in the nearby creek, watched birds, and collected butterflies. The summer before high school, my last outing with Boy Scout Troop 132 was a 50-mile portage-and-paddle canoe trip in northern Wisconsin. That trip kindled a passion for canoeing that remains a red-hot ember -- obsession? -- to this day.
I put aside birds, butterflies, and boy scouts before entering ninth grade. My parents and I had conflicting priorities during my high school years. My highest priorities were lifting weights, playing sports, and finding a date for Saturday night. My parents' highest priority was that I make good grades. We met in their version of the middle; I could play sports and borrow the car as long as my grades more or less met their overly ambitious standards.
I attended the University of Illinois because I was expected to, but I didn't know how to study, didn't know how to write, and had no clue what career path to follow. Most of my freshman rhetoric assignments came back with the dual grades of A and F: A for content, F for punctuation -- misplaced, absent, or incorrect. I dropped out of college and wound up barely safe from Vietnam as a military policeman in Panama from 1972 to 1974.
While training at Fort Gordon just outside of Augusta, I hitch-hiked to the mountains of North Georgia while on two-day leave. I set up camp on a small Chattooga River sandbar a sweaty bushwhack downstream from the US 76 bridge. I had never seen mountain water before: clear in the gliding shallows, white in the cascading shoals, green where the river rested in deep pools. I was smitten on the spot. I vowed that I would explore Southern Appalachian mountains and streams as soon as I finished my tour of military duty.
I first began to read with a hungry will while standing guard duty at lonely posts in Panama. There, in the jungle night, I first discovered the beauty and artistry of well-written prose: an epiphany of life-changing power.
I moved to Georgia and enrolled at UGA in the fall of 1974. I took required core classes and those in the would-be majors of forestry and English education. Plan B was to become an English teacher so I could roam wild country in the summer. Trouble was, my passion for hiking and paddling was exponentially higher than the near zero, means-to-an-end passion I had for teaching. I quit school and started writing The Hiking Trails of North Georgia in 1979.
After completing my guidebook, I went back to school at UGA, this time for a major in outdoor recreation: a field at least true to my leanings. Once again, I grew restless and quit school.
I spent the long summer of 1984 working for the concessionaire in Yellowstone National Park. During the spring of 1985, when I was all set to move out west and work another tourist season in Yellowstone, I met my wife-to-be, Page Luttrell, at a Sandy Creek Nature Center birdwalk. I stayed in Athens, and spent the next year wheel measuring the trails and writing their narratives for the second edition of The Hiking Trails of North Georgia.
Page's father died of prostate cancer a few days after we married in 1988. We moved in with Page's ailing mother and took care of her until she died -- at home as was her steadfast wish. In that same year I wrote my second guide, Joyce Kilmer, and began my first stint of guiding hikers for pay -- at least enough for gas and caffeine for the ride home.
In 1990, Page and I purchased the literal back 40 acres of a former cotton farm long since returned to forest. We bought the land in Madison County because the riffles in the creek; the steep, rocky slopes falling to water; and the riparian vegetation reminded us of the mountains.
Marriage, mortgage, and maturity forced me to seek a way I could read, write, and walk in the woods all the while working for a steady paycheck and health insurance. In 1994, with a leg up from my military service, I signed on for just such a job with Parking Services on the UGA campus. For nearly all of the next 20 years, I worked in the South Campus Parking Deck and the Carlton Street Parking Deck, sitting in a booth and reading or writing when I wasn't politely demanding money from paying customers.
During that long but quickly passing span of years, I wrote four more hiking guides, updated second and third editions, and, best of all, spent hundreds of days hiking wilderness trails and canoeing wild waters -- lakes, rivers, swamps, and everlasting glades. I also began the painfully slow quest to become a decent writer.
I retired from UGA in September of 2012, never to work with the frequently hostile public again. Now I have only two enjoyable jobs: trying to be a naturalist and writer, and trying to take care of land and home -- ours for only a short while.
Critical Description of Work:
At first, writing was just a tedious means to an adventurous end wrapped in the respectability of entrepreneurial enterprise. Later, I became far more interested in the everyday beauty and extraordinary diversity of the southern mountains than in making or writing about miles. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share my knowledge. After my first book, I included a nature notes section for each trail. I did this to satisfy the teacher in me and for passive environmental purposes. The more people learned about the land and life of the Southern Appalachians, the more they would help protect and preserve those ancient mountains. At least that was my hope.
Today, I want to write about my hiking and canoeing experiences. I want to describe the earth's everyday, all-around beauty. And I want to write about evolution's adaptive genius, that uncanny genius that gives the individual species a guidance system that helps it survive in complex and dynamic landscapes. These systems are a fountain of mystery and wonder. The vine does not blindly grope around for support. Evolution gave it guidance, gave it a plan. And that's the wonder: a brainless, sightless being that knows where to look.